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The latest news on Syria from Business Insider

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    Protestors attacking police officer in Burundi

    The latest findings of the World Happiness Report, an annual survey that assesses the state of global wellbeing, have been released ahead of the United Nations' International Happiness Day on March 20.

    To determine its results, the report gauged the happiness levels of thousands of individuals from 156 nations from their responses to the Gallup World Poll.

    Countries were ranked according to six key criteria: GDP per capita, social support, life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and freedom from corruption.

    The report also considered happiness inequality, to see how happiness levels varied between people from the same countries.

    "The reports review the state of happiness in the world today and show how the new science of happiness explains personal and national variations in happiness,"the report reads. "They reflect a new worldwide demand for more attention to happiness as a criteria for government policy."

    Here are the 19 unhappiest countries in the world. 

    19. Ivory Coast

    Though residents of this West African nation earn a relatively high income, according to the BBC, the country has experienced steady violence since its 2002 rebellion.

    Life expectancy is also low; men live to an average of 52 years, while women live to 54, according to figures from the World Health Organization.

    18. Cambodia

    Residents of Cambodia expressed little faith in its politics, according to the results of the report.

    The Southeast Asian country's current Prime Minister Hun Sen reclaimed power in 2013, despite mass protests and claims of fraud, according to the BBC.

    17. Angola

    Poll respondents from Angola reported a very low level of freedom to make life choices.

    Residents' life expectancy is also low. On average, men live to just 50 years, while women live to 53 years, according to the World Health Organization.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Syria's five-year-old conflict has created 2.4 million child refugees, killed many and led to the recruitment of children as fighters, some as young as seven, U.N. children's fund UNICEF said on Monday.  Its report Five years of conflict in Syria has left much of the country in ruins and robbed millions of their childhood.

    The conflict has helped trigger a worldwide refugee crisis with over 2.4 million Syrian children living as refugees outside of the country, with a further 306,000 being born as refugees,a UNICEF report that came out on Monday states.

    Within Syria a further 200,000 children are currently living under siege as battles continue to wage between various factions, including forces loyal to the Assad regime, Islamic State, and many other rebel groups.

    "Twice as many people now live under siege or in hard-to-reach areas compared with 2013. At least two million of those cut off from assistance are children, including more than 200,000 in areas under siege," the report said, adding that UNICEF workers have witnessed children suffering from extreme malnutrition and even death from starvation.

    Dr. David Nott, a trauma surgeon who worked in Syria, says the psychological consequences of life in such horrifying surroundings can be just as devastating. "Children living under siege almost have to re-learn what it’s like to be a human being," he says.

    Since the conflict began, 3.7 million Syrians have been born, 2.9 million children inside Syria and at least 811,000 in neighbouring countries. At least 400 Syrian children died in 2015 and 500 more were maimed in cases verified by UNICEF. The conflict in Syria has now led to the deaths of over 250,000 people.

    The "No Place for Children" report highlights that almost seven million children live in poverty inside of Syria today and that a whole generation is at risk as there is no end to the conflict in sight.

    "No place is safe for children in Syria. Violence has become commonplace, reaching family homes, playgrounds, schools, parks, and places of worship," UNICEF said, adding that thousands of school had been destroyed.

    UN agencies and NGO partners of the “No Lost Generation Initiative” have appealed for $1.4 billion (£980 million) this year to enable four million children and young people inside Syria and in neighbouring countries to get access to formal and non-formal education opportunities.

    On 29 October 2015 in East Ghouta, rural Damascus, an internally displaced boy sits with items he will sell.

    "A trend of particular concern is the increase in child recruitment," the report said, saying some of the children recruited to fight were now as young as seven. All parties to the conflict have been kidnapping and trying to lure children into joining the war, offering them gifts and rewards.

    "Children are now receiving military training and participating in combat, or taking up life-threatening roles at the battle-front," the report states. Children have also been used to kill and are often being indoctrinated. Islamic State has been particularly eager to release propaganda videos of its child soldiers, which it calls the "Cubs of the Caliphate."

    In 2014, the UN verified more than 460 children abducted by parties to the conflict, and children who had been released reported being beaten, indoctrinated, and forced to commit violence. Over 100 children were killed or injured while fighting in the war in 2015, according to UNICEF.

    And boys are not the only ones being recruited. Huda, who now lives in a refugee camp in Jordan, was just 14 years old when she found herself in her first battle facing armed men, with a weapon she barely knew how to use. "I was scared," she said. "The commander gave me a gun and said get ready for the battle."

    "For the 3.7 million Syrian children born since the conflict began, five years is literally a lifetime. A lifetime in which they have known little but violence, deprivation, and uncertainty," Anthony Lake, the UNICEF Executive Director said. 

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Syrian refugees dressing up as Disney princesses perfectly captures how they dream for better lives

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    obama putin

    News that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered a Russian air wing home from Syria indicates weakness to some observers. Low oil prices forced Putin to abandon the foreign venture. 

    Geopolitical expert George Friedman disagrees.

    Speaking in a Mauldin Economics video, Friedman says the Russian deployment was part of an elaborate US-Russia negotiation. The real issue is further north.

    Syria-Ukraine connection

    According to Friedman, the US is in a quandary. It needs a stable Syrian government to contain ISIS, but can’t overtly support the brutal Bashar Assad regime. 

    Meanwhile, Russia desperately wants Ukraine neutralized and outside NATO or other Western security guarantees. Moscow also wants relief from economic sanctions, though Friedman says the sanctions are minor compared to the oil problem.

    This set up a bargain.

    Russian air strikes damaged ISIS enough to put Assad back in at least a temporarily stable position. The US got what it wanted without leaving any American fingerprints.

    The next step will be quiet US-Russia discussions of a new balance in Ukraine.

    Publicity coup for Putin

    A small but successful deployment outside Russia’s normal sphere was a public-relations coup for Putin, but carries little military significance. With their goal achieved, the Russians could declare victory and go home.

    The operation didn’t solve long-term regional challenges. ISIS still controls much of Syria, but Damascus is safe for now. Both the US and Russia need a Ukraine resolution, and it is now significantly closer. 

    Watch the full interview (4:19) below or on the Mauldin Economics site.

    Subscribe to This Week in Geopolitics

    George Friedman writes the free weekly column This Week in Geopolitics for Mauldin Economics. Subscribe now and get an in-depth view of the forces that will drive events and investors in the next year, decade, or even a century from now.

    SEE ALSO: Mexico has a chance to be the world's 'next great power'

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    NOW WATCH: Russia figured out how to make a game of chess even more intense

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    Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi

    MOSCOW (AP) — Russia on Monday warned the United States that it will start responding to cease-fire violations in Syria unilaterally starting Tuesday if the U.S. refuses to coordinate rules of engagement against the violators.

    The Russian military have accused the U.S. of dragging its feet on responding to Moscow's proposals on joint monitoring of a Syria cease-fire.

    A top Russian general said on the weekend that further delays are leading to civilian casualties, like in Aleppo where 67 civilians reportedly have been killed by militant fire since the truce started.

    Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the Russian General Staff said in a statement on Monday that Russia will have to use force unilaterally that because the U.S., in talks with Russia last week, had refused to coordinate a joint response.

    "The American side was not ready for this particular discussion and for the approval of the agreement," the statement quoted him as saying.

    The cease-fire that began on Feb. 27, brokered by Russia and the U.S., has helped significantly reduce hostilities. The Islamic State group and the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front have been excluded from the truce.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin last week recalled some of Russian warplanes from Syria, but said the action against the Islamic State group and the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front will continue.

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Former Canadian model Hanna Böhman is in Syria fighting ISIS as part of the Kurdish YPJ, a female brigade that is part of the Kurdish coalition. The mother of one has been posting videos from the frontline, as well as heart wrenching images of children in the war zone.

    Story and video by Adam Banicki

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    Yusra Mardini is a hopeful for the Rio Olympic Games this year, having fled Damascus only seven months ago. She's also got an incredible life philosophy.

    Story by Jacob Shamsian and editing by Chelsea Pineda

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    Russian President Vladimir Putin stunned the world last week when he announced that Moscow would be withdrawing "the main part" of its military presence in Syria four months after entering the war on behalf of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad.

    Analysts have been scrambling to make sense of Putin's curveball, particularly in light of how effective Russia's campaign has been in bolstering Assad's Syrian Arab Army and regaining territory from rebels on behalf of the regime.

    "I find it interesting that Putin left some important military tasks unfinished," Jeff White, a defense fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Business Insider.

    "The encirclement of Aleppo was not completed, rebel forces retain a toehold in Latakia, their hold on Idlib has not been seriously challenged, and the regime position in Daraa remains difficult," he added.

    Indeed, Russia's intervention in late September was followed by a regime offensive to recapture Syria's largest city, Aleppo, from opposition forces. Russian airstrikes across northern Syria had been steadily shifting the epicenter of the war toward the corridor north of Aleppo from Turkey through Azaz since late November, and pro-government forces won a major victory in January when they broke a rebel siege in two villages northwest of Aleppo and cut off Turkey's supply line to the opposition.

    As White noted, however, Aleppo remains outside of the regime's grasp. And the most serious recent challenge to rebel-held territory in Idlib has not come from the regime, but from Al Qaeda's Syria affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra.

    Pro-regime forces have made some gains against rebels in northern Latakia, but largely remain locked in a stalemate, and control over the southern province of Daraa remains divided between ISIS, Al Qaeda, and various armed opposition groups.

    As Julien Barnes-Dacey, a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told Vox last week, that while Russia allowed the regime "to consolidate its hold on core Syria ... they haven't done enough to really put outright victory on the horizon."

    syria map

    It's unclear whether Putin ever aimed for an "outright victory" in Syria, or what such a victory would even look like to a leader known more for his tactical moves than his long-term strategic thinking.

    Indeed, Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russian security affairs and professor of global affairs at New York University, said in an email that a "mythical military victory" in Syria was never part of Russia's plan.

    But the fact that Putin ordered Russia to de-escalate at a pivotal moment for Assad — seemingly without finishing what it started — may actually be part of a broader Russian strategy to maintain Moscow's leverage at peace talks in Geneva.

    'A foreign policy operator at the top of his game'

    By de-escalating Russia's military presence in Syria, Putin has aimed to shift responsibility for ending the violence away from Moscow and onto Washington, while showing the international community — and Assad — that he is not necessarily beholden to the current regime.

    "Maybe Putin got a little fed up with Bashar and decided to show him who is boss," said White, of The Washington Institute. "Putin may believe that at least for now the emphasis should be on the diplomatic battlefield at Geneva instead of the Syrian battlefields. Russia is adept at shifting emphasis between them."

    He added: "Important though, Putin can easily shift the emphasis back to the battlefield if he does not think Geneva is going well enough."

    Many experts agree that Russia's continued presence at Tartous and Latakia — its naval and air bases in Syria — means that the "withdrawal" is more theater than substance. Indeed, White said, "Russia has shown that it can move air elements quickly into Syria as needed."

    Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council at the National defence control centre in Moscow, Russia, March 11, 2016. REUTERS/Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/Kremlin

    But Mark Kramer, the program director for the Project on Cold War Studies at Harvard's Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, contended that Putin's decision to withdraw short of securing a decisive victory for Assad was likely the plan from the beginning.

    "The rationale back in February, which undoubtedly is still relevant, was that Russian forces had accomplished what they were sent to accomplish," Kramer told Business Insider. "Namely, stabilizing Assad's hold on power, propping up his regime, and keeping the war from being a humiliating rout."

    He added: "The air operations had the additional benefit for Russia of giving the Russian Air Force a good propaganda outlet."

    Galeotti, of New York University, saw Putin's announcement as nothing short of a policy masterstroke.

    "In this way Putin reassures an anxious public at home, reduces Russian vulnerability to disastrous attacks, and gets to show himself as a statesman," Galeotti told Business Insider in an email.

    "After the disastrous blunder that was Donbas, and despite his neglect of domestic policy," he added, "this shows Putin as a foreign-policy operator at the top of his game."

    SEE ALSO: Russia is exploiting a 'gaping loophole' in Syria's peace plan to continue its bombing campaign

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    Syria ceasefire

    A total of 530 people were killed in the first 23 days of a truce in Syria in areas covered by the cessation of hostilities agreement, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Tuesday.

    In areas not covered by the ceasefire, which came into force on Feb. 27, 1,279 people were killed, the British-based Observatory said.

    The partial truce, which excludes Islamic State and the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, has been in place for just over three weeks to allow peace talks to take place in Geneva between the government and opposition groups.

    But UN peace envoy Staffan de Mistura has said that the lack of progress on the issue of President Bashar al-Assad's future could threaten the current reduction in violence.

    (Reporting by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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    syrian refugee protester greeceEditor's Note: Do refugees from Syria and Iraq really pose a terrorism threat, as some have claimed? Dan Byman concludes that the actual security risks now are low, but the potential ones are considerable if the refugee crisis is handled poorly. This article originally appeared on Lawfare.

    Syrians and Iraqis have been fleeing their countries’ civil wars for years, but the refugee crisis grabbed international headlines last month when it forced itself on the European scene. Over 500,000 Syrian asylum seekers and thousands of Iraqis have gone to Europe as of September 2015, and that number is expected to climb dramatically.

    Some European governments reacted harshly, barring refugees from entering and restricting their transit, while others, notably Germany, are welcoming them with open arms – at least for now.

    Debate about the refugees, both in Europe and the United States, often focuses on the question of terrorism: with the Islamic State raping and beheading with numbing regularity in Iraq and Syria, the fear is that admitting refugees from this part of the world will open the door to more terrorism and violence in Europe.

    Conservative voices in Europe have invoked the specter of Europe being flooded with “half a million” Islamic State fighters, while humanitarians dismiss predictions of a terrorism epidemic. 

    Both sides have it wrong. Concerns about terrorism and the refugees are legitimate, but the fears being voiced are usually exaggerated and the concerns raised often the wrong ones. 

    Terrorism and refugees share a long and painful history. Important terrorist groups like Fatah, Hamas, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinian (PFLP) grew out of the Palestinian refugee crisis of 1948. It took years, decades even, but eventually frustrated and politicized refugees, who had few opportunities to integrate into their host societies, joined militant groups promising a chance at liberation.


    The Afghan refugee community in Pakistan produced the Taliban. Somali refugees aided the terrorist group al-Shabaab. The list goes on.

    Because the refugees are from Syria and Iraq, where the Islamic State is based, it is easy to conjure up fears that the jihadi group has inserted sleeper agents among the refugees who will burrow into host societies and then spring their trap. But the Islamic State doesn’t work that way.

    In its online magazine Dabiq and other propaganda organs, it stresses the in gathering of Muslims, though it does toss the occasional rhetorical bomb calling for Muslims already in the land of the infidels to “attack, kill, and terrorize the crusaders on their own streets and in their own homes.”

    However, the Islamic State argues most “good Muslims” should travel to Iraq and Syria to fight on behalf of the Islamic State against its local enemies, not the other way around. (In contrast, Inspire, the English-language online magazine of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, stresses launching terrorist attacks in one’s home country.)

    The Islamic State might call for attacks in the West, but it has focused its own money, fighters, and suicide bombers on defeating its enemies in the Middle East. The refugees themselves, fleeing war and extremism, are not strong supporters of the most violent groups: if they were, they would have stayed in Iraq or Syria.

    But Europe already has a terrorism problem, and the bigger danger is that radicalized European Muslims will transform the Syrian refugee community into a more violent one over time. Thousands of Europeans have gone to fight with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and al-Qaida has long had a presence in Europe.

    a syrian refugee gives thanks as he arrives in an overcrowded dinghy on the greek island of lesbos after crossing part of the aegean sea from turkey september 23 2015

    These volunteers are sustained by radical preachers who condemn European ideals and support the idea of Muslims taking up arms. In addition, many European Muslims are alienated from their governments and societies, believing that as Muslims they never truly will, or should, belong. 

    If the refugees are treated as a short-term humanitarian problem rather than as a long-term integration challenge, then we are likely to see this problem worsen. Radicals will be among those who provide the religious, educational, and social support for the refugees – creating a problem where none existed.

    Indeed, the refugees need a comprehensive and long-term package that includes political rights, educational support, and economic assistance as well as immediate humanitarian aid, particularly if they are admitted in large numbers. If they cannot be integrated into local communities, then they risk perpetuating, or even exacerbating, the tensions between Muslim and non-Muslim communities in Europe.

    Despite their current gratitude for sanctuary in Europe, over time the refugees may be disenfranchised and become alienated. We’ve seen this movie before, where anger and disaffection fester, creating “suspect communities” that do not cooperate with law enforcement and security agencies and allow terrorists to recruit and operate with little interference. 

    The actual security risks now are low, but the potential ones are considerable if the refugee crisis is handled poorly. Policing, service provision, and local governance in general need to be provided for the long term.

    The worst thing European countries could do would be to invite in hundreds of thousands of refugees in a fit of sympathy and then lose interest or become hostile, starving them of support and vilifying them politically, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    SEE ALSO: Haunting portraits of Syria's child refugees that everyone should see

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    NOW WATCH: IAN BREMMER: Greece is headed for a humanitarian disaster

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    brussels military

    Gruesome acts of terror  like the ones that unfolded in Brussels, Belgium on Monday, killing 28 people and injured dozens more — may appear random.

    All we see is the aftermath  the bloodied bodies and the debris. We never see the motives, so we assume there's something particular about this attack that motivated these killers.

    But decades of research suggest exactly the opposite, that since around 1980 just about every act of terrorism has stemmed from a similar frustration: foreign military involvement at home.

    "What 95 percent of all suicide attacks have in common, since 1980, is not religion," Robert Pape, founder of the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism at the University of Chicago, said recently on Politics and Reality Radio, "but a specific strategic motivation to respond to a military intervention, often specifically a military occupation, of territory that the terrorists view as their homeland or prize greatly."

    Pape has spent nearly his entire career as a political scientist studying terrorism. He's analyzed more than 4,600 acts of suicidal terror around the world, which, by the best measure, is every act of suicidal terror around the world since 1980.

    He's found that beneath fundamental religious beliefs is a more basic commitment to the ownership of land and property; terrorists protect what they believe is rightfully theirs.

    Al Qaeda protected Afghanistan from Soviet forces three decades ago. Today, ISIS fights to preserve the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. As Joshua Holland reports in The Nation, nearly all of ISIS' higher-ranking officials once served in the Iraq military in a leadership role.

    Pape's view is shared by other researchers.

    The Suicide Terrorism Database, at Flinders University in Australia, maintains one of the largest catalogs of suicide attacks in the world. Riaz Hassan, a leading sociologist and expert in Islamic studies, helps run the database. His research has found political, not religious, motivation is at the heart of most attacks.

    "Though religion can play a vital role in recruiting and motivating potential future suicide bombers," Hassan wrote in 2009, "the driving force is not religion but a cocktail of motivations including politics, humiliation, revenge, retaliation and altruism."

    In order to surrender your physical existence with a vest made of dynamite, in other words, you must first believe what you're doing is wholly just. That's the altruism Hassan mentions. Further down is the anger and embarrassment, and a resentment toward foreign involvement.

    "Suicide bombings are carried out by motivated individuals associated with community-based organizations," Hassan writes.

    And that's no accident.

    As both Hassan and Pape have found, when people feel their homeland is threatened to its very core, and a militant group has the means of getting rid of that threat, people will risk everything to protect what's theirs.

    The problem in discussing these horrible acts is that political fervor runs too deep to notice in the immediate aftermath, and so religion gets caught in the crossfire.

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Here's how many people die from terrorism compared to gun violence

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    Nusra Front

    Al Qaeda is employing a strategy that might help the terrorist group outlast ISIS in Syria, and it's revealing its true jihadist endgame in the process.

    As a different terrorist group, ISIS — aka the Islamic State, ISIL, or Daesh — claims responsibility for a terrorist attack in Belgium, Syrian Al Qaeda affiliate the Nusra Front (also known as Jabhat al-Nusra) is flying under the radar, hoping to continue gaining influence in Syria.

    And experts think that it could be a bigger threat to the US than ISIS in the long term.

    While ISIS has taken over territory in the Middle East with force and uses violence to repress the populations it controls, the Nusra Front has been working toward winning popular support in the country, hoping that its strategy will help it outlast other jihadist groups.

    The Nusra Front has fashioned itself as an important partner in the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad. Unlike ISIS, which imposes harsh Islamic laws soon after it forcefully seizes territory, the Nusra Front has generally been slower to crack down on civilian populations.

    The jihadists are waiting for Syrians to slowly come around to the idea of Islamic rule, which lowers the chance of a successful uprising if the Nusra Front is able to establish Syria as an Islamic emirate.

    "This is all the long game," Thomas Joscelyn, an Al Qaeda expert and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Business Insider. "The concept of jihad and the notion of jihad as [Al Qaeda] understands it was missing in Syria for decades. Their whole idea is to use the war to inculcate the ideology of jihad among the population, which is a slow process."

    Civil war has been dragging on in Syria for the past five years as Assad fights to hold on to power. Moderate rebels, whose main focus is on defeating Assad, are struggling to make gains as they face onslaughts from the regime and jihadist groups like the Nusra Front.

    And ultimately, the jihadist groups who want to see Syria governed by Islamic law hope to be the last ones standing. Western experts charge that the Nusra Front has maintained a tacit coordination with moderate rebels in some areas of Syria, but that might now be crumbling as the jihadists turn on the rebels.

    Last week, the Nusra Front attacked Division 13, a US-backed group that's affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, killing about a dozen rebels and arresting several more.

    Syria control map

    In a note last week, strategic-security firm The Soufan Group explained why this is significant:

    On March 11, people in Maarrat al-Numan gathered to peacefully protest the Assad regime, able to do so only because of a ceasefire [between the regime and the opposition]. Many waved the flag of the revolution. Jabhat al-Nusra fighters, opposed to any flag other than their own, stormed into the crowd and assaulted civilians. In doing so, the group shed its mask of revolutionary solidarity and revealed its true extremist nature.

    "Nusra's stated goal throughout all of Syria from when they first started until today is to turn Syria into an Islamic emirate," Ahmad al-Soud, the commander and founder of Division 13, told Business Insider through a translator on Friday. "They don't want any other armed group in Syria except for them, and they want to turn it into kind of what Afghanistan was under the Taliban."

    Defeating moderate rebels and the regime is the first step, and then the Nusra Front will face other jihadist groups like ISIS.

    "Once they ... get rid of all the other groups, [the Nusra Front] can finally duke it out between them and ISIS for who's the worst," Soud said.

    Free Syrian Army Idlib, Syria

    Jennifer Cafarella, a Syria analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, laid out the Nusra Front's strategy in an op-ed for CNN:

    Jabhat al-Nusra is leveraging its battlefield contributions to create relationships with civil society, civilian populations and other Syrian opposition groups. It then manipulates those relationships in order to achieve dominance. And it directly targets US-backed groups, and defeats them when it can, in order to ensure that moderate forces do not find footing in a new Syria.

    Soud denied any coordination with the Nusra Front. But he did acknowledge that some Syrians had initially accepted the Nusra Front as a partner in fighting the Assad regime.

    "The most important thing is that the world understands that the Syrian people reject Al Qaeda's ideology," Soud said. "We reluctantly allowed Nusra into Syria because our main enemy is the regime. After the regime is gone, we will continue to fight anybody who tries to implement their will against the people."

    As long as Assad remains a player on the Syrian battlefield, moderate rebels will face a stalemate of sorts — because they're fighting jihadists and the regime, their already-scant resources will be spread too thin for them to win out over anyone.

    "As long as the Assad regime is still around, you're still going to have different extremist groups in Syria and they're not going to leave, we're not going to be able to get them out," Soud said. "We can't fight on all these different fronts against the regime and against ISIS and against Nusra."

    Nusra Front Idlib, Syria

    What this means for the US

    The Nusra Front's end goals aren't confined to Syria.

    A January report from the Institute for the Study of War and the American Enterprise Institute concluded that the US is dangerously underestimating the Nusra Front, which it says could become even more of a threat to the long-term security of the US than ISIS.

    The report stated that the Nusra Front posed "one of the most significant long-term threats" of any jihadist group.

    "This Al Qaeda affiliate has established an expansive network of partnerships with local opposition groups that have grown either dependent on or fiercely loyal to the organization," the report said. "Its defeat and destruction must be one of the highest priorities of any strategy to defend the United States and Europe from Al Qaeda attacks."

    Cafarella, one of the coauthors of the report, wrote in her CNN op-ed that America's focus on defeating ISIS "has played directly into the group's hands, allowing the group to exploit its time out of the spotlight and set up a return to the global stage once ISIS is defeated."

    Syrian civilians are fighting back against the Nusra Front in some areas, but it's unclear how long they can hold out if the Assad regime keeps bombing rebel-held areas and ISIS continues its brutal rule.

    Moderate rebels are in many cases outmatched when they go up against jihadists and the Assad regime, which have more funding and resources coming in from outside donors or, in the case of the regime, allies like Russia and Iran.

    "A group like Division 13 doesn't have a national program," said Joscelyn, the Al Qaeda expert. "The FSA doesn't have a national program, so they weren't going to govern all of Idlib."

    SEE ALSO: Another jihadist war might be about to break out in Syria, and it all fits into Assad's master plan

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    NOW WATCH: Syrian refugees dressing up as Disney princesses perfectly captures how they dream for better lives

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    mosul palmyra

    Syrian and Iraqi forces are bringing the fight to ISIS on Thursday, launching attacks on two cities controlled by the militant group that is also known as the Islamic State, ISIL, or Daesh.

    Syrian troops have entered Palmyra, an ancient town controlled by ISIS, according to Syrian state TV.

    Simultaneously, an Iraqi military spokesman says, the long-awaited military operation to recapture the northern city of Mosul from ISIS militants "has begun."

    It's unclear whether the two attacks are coordinated.

    Homs governor Talal Barazi tells the Associated Press that the army has determined three directions to storm the town and is now clearing all roads leading to Palmyra from mines and explosives.

    Barazi said Thursday he was predicting an "overwhelming victory in Palmyra" within the next 48 hours.

    The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the troops are facing tough resistance from ISIS extremists as they try to penetrate the town's eastern and southern limits.

    Roughly 300 miles away, a similar fight is unfolding in Iraq.

    ISIS map

    The spokesman for the Joint Military Command, Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, says Iraqi forces retook several villages on the outskirts of the town of Makhmour, east of Mosul, on Thursday morning.

    Rasool says the US-led international coalition is providing air support. He wouldn't divulge more details.

    It was not immediately clear how long such a complex and taxing operation could take. Mosul lies 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.

    It's Iraq's second-largest city, and it fell to ISIS during the militants' June 2014 onslaught. Mosul is also the largest city in ISIS' self-declared caliphate, and it is seen as the group's Iraqi capital.

    ISIS has controlled Palmyra since May and has destroyed many of its famed archaeological sites.

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    NOW WATCH: Terrorism expert reveals 4 key reasons people become violent extremists

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    Barack Obama Syria airstrikes

    Following the ceasefire in Syria negotiated a month ago by Washington and Moscow, Secretary of State John Kerry must now work out a long-term settlement in Syria.

    Any agreement involves not only the Assad regime and the Russians — a daunting duo — but also 34 groups backed by Saudi Arabia, including several jihadist organizations.

    There are two key questions guiding the Obama administration:

    • Will Washington work with the Russians, whose eagerness for a settlement is perfectly evident, or does great-power rivalry foreclose this option?

    • Can Washington reconcile the conflicting goals of “regional allies” it deems essential to a Syrian settlement? If it can’t, Turkey and Saudi Arabia could scuttle the peace deal.

    You’d hardly know it from the sparse news reports, but a second week of talks on the Syria crisis just got under way in Geneva. When they recess Thursday, we’ll have to count it a success if Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. envoy holding this effort together with spit and baling wire, can announce that a third round will begin on schedule next month.

    But events on the ground have started to outpace the Geneva talks.

    If you study the ceasefire, announced in Washington and Moscow on February 22, one important item was left out: How will the accord be enforced? What’s the joint policing arrangement on the ground?

    The omission was most likely by design. It was tough enough for Kerry to make the deal, given tensions with Russia on a range of questions. Washington has consistently declined to work any closer than arm’s length with the Russian military in any operational context.

    Free Syrian Army Idlib, SyriaNow Moscow has forced the issue. It sent Washington proposals for joint-monitoring arrangements three days after signing the ceasefire pact. Since then it announced that it would pull out “the main part” of its military force from Syria. The latter has proven a gesture and no more, but a positive gesture given that it came just as talks got under way in Geneva.

    On Monday the other shoe dropped. In order to avoid more inexcusable civilian deaths due to delays, Russia announced that it may begin policing the ceasefire unilaterally--having heard nothing from the U.S. on monitoring.

    In effect, the Syria crisis forces the Obama administration to face a question I’ll bet it wishes it never had to answer: How well does our bedrock animosity toward Russia and its thoroughly demonized president work in the 21st century?

    It’s fundamental. So are the questions raised by Turkish and Saudi involvement in the Syria conflict.

    In the Turkish case, President Recip Tayyip Erdoğan’s Sunni nationalism led him into an unholy, all-but-overt alliance with the Islamic State years ago. He has since started going after Kurdish militias in Syria and Iraq even as they fight ISIS with American support.

    Now Erdoğan’s causing trouble as negotiations proceed in Geneva. Given that he blocked the Kurds from attending, their declaration last week of an autonomous region along Syria’s border with Turkey sits right on the Turkish autocrat’s doorstep.

    The Saudis view of the Syria conflict as a religious crusade against Shiites appears unshakable. Washington wants its regional allies to commit militarily on the ground, but the Saudis’ indiscriminate bombing campaign in Yemen makes the prospect pretty repellent.

    syria assadBoth Turkey and Syria back Mohammed Alloush as the Syrian opposition’s lead negotiator in Geneva, and it’s important to know who this man is. Alloush heads the Saudi-backed group Jaysh al-Islam, the Army of Islam, which is fighting for an Islamic state to govern under shariah law.

    Jaysh al-Islam’s record isn’t good. It refuses to join the Free Syrian Army and videotapes executions, ISIS-style. According to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, a generally accepted source, it put captured Syrian soldiers and civilians in cages two years ago and deployed them as human shields.

    Washington calls Jaysh al-Islam part of the moderate opposition. Moscow and the Syrian government call it a terrorist organization.

    At a certain point, Washington will have to face that second question: Just how constructive and productive are its longstanding alliances with Turkey and Saudi Arabia? Given the recent opening to Iran, this issue clearly extends beyond the Syria crisis.

    It’s important, obviously, to recognize when these moments of truth arrive. And Syria may turn out to be one of them.

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    BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian soldiers advanced slowly in heavy fighting with Islamic State fighters near Palmyra's ancient ruins on Thursday, state media and a monitoring group said, in an offensive which could open up swathes of eastern Syria to government forces.

    The recapture of Palmyra, which the Islamist militants seized in May 2015, would mark the biggest single gain for President Bashar al-Assad since Russia intervened in September and turned the tide of the five-year conflict in his favor.

    Russian jets have continued to support the Syrian army and its allies as they push their offensive on the desert city, despite Moscow's recent announcement that it was withdrawing the bulk of its military forces.

    A Russian special forces officer was killed in combat near Palmyra in the last week, Interfax said, suggesting the Kremlin has been more deeply engaged in the Syrian conflict than it has acknowledged.

    Syria's SANA news agency said that the army and an allied militia took more high ground overlooking the city, while the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported advances by the army amid what it said were heavy clashes.

    Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman said the fighting had reached Palmyra's Roman-era ruins, located in the southwest of the city, where he said the army could not rely on air cover because of the risk of further damage to the ancient site.

    Islamic State has blown up ancient temples and tombs since capturing Palmyra, something the UN cultural agency UNESCO has called a war crime.

    isis map

    The agency welcomed the prospect of Palmyra's recapture, saying it "carries the memory of the Syrian people, and the values of cultural diversity, tolerance and openness that have made this region a cradle of civilization.

    "For one year, Palmyra has been a symbol of the cultural cleansing plaguing the Middle East," UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova said in a statement.

    Al-Manar, the television station of Lebanon's Hezbollah group, broadcasting live from the outskirts of Palmyra on Friday, showed footage of the ancient city.

    An image distributed by Islamic State militants on social media on August 25, 2015 purports to show the destruction of a Roman-era temple in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra.  REUTERS/Social Media

    It was not possible to assess from the long-range shots what damage had been inflicted, but colonnades and several structures appeared to be still standing.


    SEE ALSO: 2 major battles for ISIS-controlled cities are unfolding in Syria and Iraq

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    UN syria

    This week, representatives of Western-backed Syrian opposition delegation in Geneva told Russian state media that President Bashar al-Assad had a surprising new ally on the Syrian battlefield: militia units from North Korea. 

    "Two North Korean units are there, which are Chalma-1 and Chalma-7," Asaad az-Zoubi, head of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) to Syrian peace talks in the Swiss city, reportedly told Tass news agency on Tuesday.

    In any other context, the presence of soldiers from the internationally isolated and geographically distant country North Korea might seem absurd. However, the civil war in Syria has emerged as a mini-world war over the past five years, with foreign fighters from at least 86 countries believed to be fighting there.

    The Syrian regime headed by Assad is already known to have the support of a number of international partners, including Russia, Iran and the Lebanese militia group Hezbollah. And this isn't the first time that there have been reports of soldiers from the Hermit Kingdom being involved in the conflict.

    In 2013, Rami Abdulrahman, director of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), told Saudi-owned Arabic newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat that a small number of North Koreans were in Syria, to provide logistical and planning support. 

    "The exact number of the officers is not known, but there are definitely 11 to 15 North Korean officers, most of whom speak Arabic," Abdulrahman said, according to a translation published by South Korean outlet Chosun Ilbo. Abdulrahman's report was followed up the next year by another from Jane's Defence Weekly, which reported that North Korea was assisting helping Syria improve its missile capabilities.

    Residents inspect damaged ground after a shell fell in the rebel held town of Jarjanaz, southern Idlib countryside, Syria March 5, 2016. REUTERS/Khalil AshawiThese reports are hard to confirm, but many experts believe they are credible: North Korea and Syria have had a military relationship for decades and there's little sign it's been shaken recently.

    "The North Koreans have been involved with Syria since the late-1960s," says Joseph S. Bermudez Jr, a contributor to 38 North, an analysis website affiliated with the U.S.-Korea Institute at John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. That involvement included providing advisers and air defense troops immediately after the 1967 and 1973 wars with Israel, Bermudez says, and stretches to the modern era, when North Korea is believed to have provided technology used to help build the secret al-Kibar nuclear site in Syria, which was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike in 2007.

    "Syria is one of North Korea's longest standing and deepest political and military relationships," Andrea Berger of the Royal United Services Institute adds. In a report published last year, Berger had described how the relationship was originally based upon military training but eventually graduated to weapons sales, including ballistic missiles and chemical weapons.

    Remarkably, the relationship between North Korea and Syria does appear to have survived to the present day, Berger noted, despite U.N. sanctions on North Korea which should, in theory, curtail them: It may even have thrived, with state media in both countries loudly publicizing the regular high-level meetings between Syria and North Korea.

    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during a ceremony to award party and state commendations to nuclear scientists, technicians, soldier-builders, workers and officials for their contribution to what North Korea said was a succesful hydrogen bomb test, at the meeting hall of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on January 13, 2016.  REUTERS/KCNABermudez says that since the Arab Spring began, there have been a number of reports that small teams of North Korean soldiers were providing logistical support to the Syrian regime. However, he notes that some more recent seem to suggest North Korean soldiers are actively playing a role in fighting in Syria. "While I can't confirm these reports," Bermudez says, "it would not be out of character for North Korea to do so, as they historically have provided small 'regime support' forces to countries in crisis in Africa."

    Berger agrees. "Military to military cooperation between the two countries, including on-the-ground presence of North Korean troops, would be in keeping with the history of their bilateral relationship," she says.

    (Bermudez also notes that the reference to North Korean units being named "Chalma" could be a reference to the Kalma airfield in North Korea.)

    Not everyone is so sure. Philip Smyth, a researcher at the University of Maryland who studies groups allied to the Syrian regime, says that he has also recently seen a number of vague reports about North Koreans fighting for Assad in Syrian news sources that are sympathetic to the regime. However, he wasn't sure of their accuracy. "Often, they would confuse Afghan Shia Hazara fighters for 'Chinese' or 'Koreans,' Smyth says, referring to an Afghan minority known to fight alongside the Syrian regime.

    North Korean authorities have denied any military involvement in the past, with state news agency KCNA writing in 2013 that "foreign media" were "floating misinformation."

    But with North Korea increasingly cash-strapped, analysts have noted that it has increasingly sent citizens abroad to earn foreign money. These citizens often work in conditions that Marzuki Darusman, the special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, has referred to as "forced labor." For Pyongyang, perhaps the Syrian war is a payday.

    This article was written by Adam Taylor from The Washington Post and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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    Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli isis

    ISIS' described No. 2 leader was killed in a Thursday strike in Syria, US officials announced Friday.

    The commander, Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, went by several aliases, including Haji Imam and Abu Alaa al-Afri.

    "We are systematically eliminating ISIL's cabinet," US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said at a briefing on Friday, using an alternate acronym for ISIS, which is also known as the Islamic State or Daesh.

    Carter referred to the ISIS commander as a "senior leader serving as a finance minister who was also involved in external affairs and plots."

    Qaduli was thought to be a potential successor to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, if Baghdadi were to die.

    "The momentum of this campaign is clearly on our side," Carter said of the US coalition against ISIS.

    Last year, the US State Department authorized a $7 million reward for information on Qaduli.

    The State Department referred to Qaduli as "a senior ISIL official who rejoined ISIL following his release from prison in early 2012." He was previously a member of Al Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor to ISIS.

    An Iraqi government adviser told Newsweek last year that Qaduli, a former physics teacher from Mosul, was installed as a temporary leader of the terrorist group after Baghdadi was thought to be injured in an airstrike.

    Newsweek described Qaduli as a "rising star" within ISIS, and the Iraqi government adviser, Hisham al Hashimi, said Qaduli had become even more important than Baghdadi.

    Hashimi described him as "smarter" than Baghdadi and with "better relationships."

    "He is a good public speaker and strong charisma," Hashimi told Newsweek. "All the leaders of Daesh find that he has much jihadi wisdom, and good capability at leadership and administration."

    Qaduli was reportedly a follower of Abu Musaab al-Suri, a prominent jihadi scholar, and used to teach physics in the northwestern Iraqi city of Tal Afar.

    Qaduli reportedly became Baghdadi's right-hand man after Baghdadi took a step back from decision-making for security reasons, Newsweek reports. He has served as a link between ISIS' top leaders and its lower ranks and helped with coordination between the upper ranks and the emirs in different regional provinces.

    The Iraqi government claimed last year to have killed Qaduli, but the Pentagon did not confirm it.

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    temple of baal syria palmyra

    Syrian government forces backed by heavy Russian air support drove Islamic State out of Palmyra on Sunday, inflicting what the army called a "mortal blow" to militants who seized the city last year and dynamited its ancient temples.

    The loss of Palmyra represents one of the biggest setbacks for the ultra-hardline Islamist group since it declared a caliphate in 2014 across large parts of Syria and Iraq.

    The army general command said that its forces took over the city with support from Russian and Syrian air strikes, opening up the huge expanse of desert leading east to the Islamic State strongholds of Raqqa and Deir al-Zor.

    Palmyra would become "a launchpad to expand military operations" against the group in those two provinces, it said, promising to "tighten the noose on the terrorist group and cut supply routes ... ahead of their complete recapture."

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there were still clashes on the eastern edge of Palmyra on Sunday morning, around the prison and inside the airport, but the bulk of the Islamic State force had withdrawn and retreated east, leaving the city under President Bashar al-Assad's control.

    Amaq, a news agency close to Islamic State, said its fighters launched a twin suicide attack against government forces in west Palmyra, without giving details.

    Syrian state-run television broadcast from inside the city, showing empty streets and badly damaged buildings.

    An image distributed by Islamic State militants on social media on August 25, 2015 purports to show the destruction of a Roman-era temple in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra.  REUTERS/Social Media

    It quoted a military source saying Syrian and Russian jets were targeting Islamic State fighters as they fled, hitting dozens of vehicles on the roads leading east from the city.

    Russia's intervention in September turned the tide of Syria's five-year conflict in Assad's favor. Despite its declared withdrawal of most military forces two weeks ago, Russian jets and helicopters carried out dozens of strikes daily over Palmyra as the army pushed into the city.

    "This achievement represents a mortal blow to the terrorist organization and lays the foundation for a great collapse in the morale of its mercenaries and the beginning of its defeat," the army command statement said.

    In a pointed message to the United States, which has led a separate Western and Arab coalition against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq since 2014, the military command said its gains showed that the army "and its friends" were the only force able to uproot terrorism.

    Biggest defeat

    ISIS Islamic State Palmyra

    Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman said 400 Islamic State fighters died in the battle for Palmyra, which he described as the biggest single defeat for the group since it announced its cross-border caliphate nearly two years ago.

    The loss of Palmyra comes three months after Islamic State fighters were driven out of the city of Ramadi in neighboring Iraq, the first major victory for Iraq's army since it collapsed in the face of an assault by the militants in June 2014.

    Islamic State has lost ground elsewhere, including the Iraqi city of Tikrit last year and the Syrian town of al-Shadadi in February. The United States said the fall of Shadadi was part of efforts to cut Islamic State's links between its two main power centers of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria.

    On Friday the United States said it believed it had killed several senior Islamic State militants, including Abd ar-Rahman al-Qaduli, described as the group's top finance official and aide to its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

    Islamic State and al Qaeda's Syrian branch the Nusra Front are excluded from a month-long cessation of hostilities in Syria that has brought a relative lull in fighting between the government and rebels battling Assad in the west of the country.

    The limited truce has allowed indirect peace talks to resume at the United Nations in Geneva, sponsored by Washington and Moscow. But progress has been slow, with the government and its opponents deeply divided over any political transition, particularly whether Assad must leave power.

    The government delegation, which portrays the fight against terrorism as Syria's overriding priority, will return to the talks next month bolstered by its battlefield gains.


    "The liberation of the historic city of Palmyra today is an important achievement and another indication of the success of the strategy pursued by the Syrian army and its allies in the war against terrorism," Syrian television quoted Assad as telling visiting French parliamentarians.

    The Observatory said around 180 government soldiers and allied fighters were killed in the campaign to retake Palmyra, which is home to some of the most extensive ruins of the Roman empire.

    Islamic State militants dynamited several monuments last year, and Syrian television broadcast footage from inside Palmyra museum on Sunday showing toppled and damaged statues, as well as several smashed display cases.

    Syria's antiquities chief said other ancient landmarks were still standing and pledged to restore the damaged monuments.

    "Palmyra has been liberated. This is the end of the destruction in Palmyra," Mamoun Abdelkarim told Reuters on Sunday. "How many times did we cry for Palmyra? How many times did we feel despair? But we did not lose hope."

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    ISIS Islamic State Palmyra

    The Syrian army announced on Sunday that it had recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra, with the aid of Russian air support, from the Islamic State.

    ISIS fighters seized Palmyra in May 2015, immediately raising concerns that the group would destroy the city's antiquities and artifacts that date back to the first century.

    The group is known to loot and destroy ancient sites for both religious and financial purposes, and soon after the capture of Palmyra, the fears of historians and preservationists were realized by reports of destruction across the city.

    As the city was being retaken, Syria's head of antiquities, Mamoun Abdelkarim, told Reuters that Syria hoped to restore stolen artifacts and reconstruct what had been destroyed.

    "We will rebuild them with the stones that remain, and with the remaining columns," Abdelkarim said. "[We will] bring life back to Palmyra."

    The work of assessing the scale of the damage can begin in earnest now that the city is back under Syrian control, though the damage is already known to include a triumphal arch, two temples, and funeral towers — destruction that UNESCO's Director-General Irina Bokova called an "immense loss."

    UNESCO and Syrian antiquity authorities would enter the city to evaluate the damage and "protect the priceless heritage of the city of Palmyra, crossroad of cultures since the dawn of humanity," Bokova added.

    She also noted that "UNESCO will do everything in its power to document the damage so that these crimes do not go unpunished."

    Images of the city that the Islamic State left behind have already emerged.

    The first historical mention of Palmyra dates back to the second millennium B.C.

    Tourists are seen here walking in Palmyra, September 30, 2010.

    When Palmyra was first captured by the Islamic State, Syrian news agency SANA released a number of images showing the condition of the city's ancient ruins at the time.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Boris Johnson

    Boris Johnson has praised Vladimir Putin's "ruthless clarity" in backing President Assad to remove "maniac" ISIS jihadists from Palmyra.

    The London Mayor said the UK should send top archaeologists to help restore the ancient city of Palmyra after Putin exposed the West's "ineffective" response to the Syria crisis by helping liberate it.

    Writing in The Daily Telegraph Johnson said: "They have made the West look relatively ineffective; and so now is the time for us to make amends, and to play to our strengths. We have some of the greatest archaeological experts in the world.

    "I hope that the Government will soon be funding them to go to Syria and help the work of restoration. It is far cheaper than bombing and more likely to lead to long-term tourism and economic prosperity.

    "One day Syria's future will be glorious; but that will partly depend on the world's ability to enjoy its glorious past. British experts should and will be at the forefront of the project."

    The recapture by Syrian government forces of the city, known to Syrians as the "Bride of the Desert," represents a significant blow to ISIS, also known as ISIL, IS, and Daesh.

    Experts are set to begin assessing the scale of the damage done to the 2,000-year-old ruins, with many famous monuments known to have been destroyed.

    Johnson wrote that while the regime itself was "evil,""the victory of Assad is a victory for archaeology, a victory for all those who care about the ancient monuments of one of the most amazing cultural sites on earth."

    He said:

    "It is alas very hard to claim that the success of the Assad forces is a result of any particular British or indeed western policy. How could it be? We rightly loathe his regime and what it stands for, and for the last few years we have been engaged in an entirely honourable mission to build an opposition to Assad that was not composed simply of Daesh. That effort has not worked, not so far. It has been Putin who with a ruthless clarity has come to the defence of his client, and helped to turn the tide. If reports are to be believed, the Russians have not only been engaged in air strikes against Assad's opponents, but have been seen on the ground as well."

    russia putin

    A replica of the destroyed gateway of the Temple of Bel is due to be raised in Trafalgar Square next month in a show of solidarity with Palmyra.

    "I hope it will also be a sign of our British determination to be useful in the reconstruction of the country," Johnson wrote.

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    ISIS Islamic State

    The resistance facing Islamic State's online propaganda machine is well-documented — with tech giants like Apple, Twitter, and Facebook all attempting to suppress the influence of the jihdaist group. But away from the internet, the terror group's media project is organised, far-reaching, and showing no signs of dwindling. 

    In an article published on Sunday on the Lawfare blog, senior communications researcher Charlie Winter says the West's fixation with the Islamic State's online presence has meant the success of the group's offline propaganda has gone almost unnoticed. 

    Winter, a senior research associate at Georgia State University who specialises in the strategies of international jihadist movements, explained how ISIS (or IS, ISIL, and Daesh) uses radio and the printing press to disseminate messages across its territories on a daily basis. Business Insider's Pamela Engel has previously written about how ISIS' brainwashes those living under its rule.

    Speaking about the extremist group's "formidable" offline communications effort, Winter wrote: 

    Night and day, the al-Bayan Radio station broadcasts its programs on shortwave frequencies from central Libya to eastern Iraq, with programs ranging from news bulletins and 'history lessons' to on-air fatwas and call-in medical clinics. The formerly-annual al-Naba’ newsletter has metamorphosed into a weekly newspaper issued on Saturdays, complete with exclusive interviews, opinion pieces, and infographics. 

    According to Winter, recent reports of falling fighter numbers and the group's finances being strained have created the notion that ISIS is in a process of regression. While in the the group's heartland in Syria and Iraq its media machine is flourishing and showing no signs of decline. 

    Now, for the most part, the common conception is not that the caliphate is in ascendancy, but that it is on a downward – albeit dangerous – trajectory. In the territories that the Islamic State holds dear, though, the story is very different. In these places – its propaganda narrative more pervasive – the situation is borne of an offline media strategy that has, for a long time, been almost totally obscured by the world’s fixation on its online equivalent.

    In provinces controlled by the Islamic fundamentalists, a network of "media points" have been created where IS-approved content can be seen or even downloaded — such as literature, images of "paradise" and video clips showing the gore of warfare. 

    isis movie theater 2

    In a recent edition of the group's official Al-Naba newsletter, it is claimed the media point experiment began as a lowly shack in northern Syria, but now accounts for over 60 booths in the Nineveh Province, with at least 25 in the city of Mosul alone.

    Islamic State has lost several key personnel in recent months, including its "minister of war," Omar al-Shishani and Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, who was described as ISIS’ No. 2 leader.

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